Telecom-Funded North Carolina House Votes To Gut Cheap And Fast Public Broadband

The mantra of the modern conservative movement in the United States is that the government isn’t capable of doing anything as well as the private sector. This idea is constantly perpetuated among conservative intelligentsia and as a rallying cry by conservative politicians.

Yet conservative ideology can’t explain the success of Wilson, North Carolina’s, Greenlight fiber optic broadband service. In 2008, Wilson decided that all of its residents deserve access to affordable broadband service and shouldn’t have to put up with a private monopoly. So it established its own broadband service called Greenlight, which offered speeds more than twice as fast as private competitors for a similar price. Soon, Greenlight’s success spread, as several other municipalities in the state started their own public broadband services, giving residents a public option that was cheaper and more effective than the private monopolies.

But the state’s primarily broadband monopoly, Time Warner, decided that consumers shouldn’t have this option. It organized with the other telecoms, and the sector donated over $600,000 to politicians in the state over the last election cycle. And on Monday, every single Republican in the state house along with 15 Democrats voted for a bill that severely restricts the ability of municipalities to operate their own broadband networks, including a provision that disallows them from offering services at below cost — essentially eliminating their ability to provide affordable rates to residents:

A bill that would place restrictions on the establishment of municipal broadband networks is gaining traction in North Carolina. The proposed legislation, House Bill 129, was passed by the state’s House of Representatives in an 81 to 37 vote on Monday, March 28, and is making its way through the state Senate.

The bill, which has sparked controversy across the state, is called the “Level Playing Field/Local Gov’t Competition” act. The legislation would require communities to alter the way networks are financed and deployed. One section of the bill mandates that a municipal network not price services below their actual costs.

Rep. Bill Faison (D), one of the bill’s most vocal opponents, blasted the legislation: “This bill will make it practically impossible for cities to provide a fundamental service. Where’s the bill to govern Time Warner? Let’s be clear about whose bill this is. This is Time Warner’s bill. You need to know who you’re doing this for.” The legislation has moved on to the state senate.